3 degrees but no job

Overeducated, under experienced, and I’m having to move back in with my family in my thirties. Help!

First, says our elder, be proud of your achievements. A career counselor will help you find the right start in your career.

Dear EWC

I tried to do everything right. I was a first generation college student from an impoverished family who eventually earned three degrees — including a humanities Ph.D. I wasted my twenties on education in the hopes of becoming a tenure-track college professor. I have applied to 76 jobs just in the last several months. Out of those I have gone on some interviews but am never chosen. I realize now, too late, that I picked an unmarketable field. There just aren’t many jobs posted in my field. I’ve branched out away from academia and have applied to fields as varied as non-profit, medical, and administrative, but I am considered too inexperienced to get a position in my field and too overeducated and under experienced to get a job in a new field. I have now been unemployed for eleven months. To my embarrassment, I am 35 and have had no choice but to move back in with family. I did have a job but lost it due to the college closing.

Since Covid hit I have become even more isolated. I’m wondering whether or not I should go back to graduate school in the middle of a pandemic to see if I can get a more marketable degree or if I should just keep trying to get a job with my current degrees. I feel too old to go back to school and without a job I don’t know how I’ll pay for it. I’m already over my head with existing student loans. I am exhausted by the job search and the minimal opportunities. My entire identity seems to revolve around the pursuit of employment, and I feel so disappointed about not achieving my original career objectives. I know I need to pivot but every door I turn closes. I’m running out of ideas and money fast. Due to a technicality I was denied unemployment. My self-esteem has taken such a hit. I want to foster and adopt and would like to get married, but I can’t get my life started with forming these new relationships, because I can’t find a job to achieve the independence I want to have at this age. I want to give back to my family, not be dependent on them for help. Thanks for taking the time to read my letter. I lost both of my grandparents at the same time last year, and I miss getting the opportunity to spend time with elders.

Jay replies

I am sorry about your losing your grandparents last year. I know I cannot replace them, but I will try to at least steer you in the right direction.

First, regardless of your current difficulties, you should be extremely proud of your first in the family educational achievements. Your humanities degree should be valued, even at a time when there is so much focus on technology.

I agree that this may not be the right time for adoption or marriage. You do need to devote your focus and resources to your job search. Moreover, a serious relationship at this time may limit you from a geographic standpoint, whereas based upon what I know from your letter, currently you are free to engage in your search throughout the whole country (or even the world).

As to what should be your next move, I must be honest and tell you that I really don’t know enough about you to say for sure. I do agree that going back to school could be financially problematic. In that regard, it might be better to find an entry-level position in a company (typically but not necessarily a large company) that encourages educational opportunities by paying for your tuition to attend classes.

However, my most important advice to you is to seek out a good career counselor. He or she may have ideas for career opportunities based upon your background and interests that you have never even considered. The counselor might also be able to give you tips with preparing your resume or improving your interviewing techniques. If you do need to go back to school, the counselor may be aware of scholarship opportunities or work opportunities while you attend classes. The counselor may, of course, expect compensation for his or her services, but if you find a good counselor, I think it would be worth it. Many counselors will also give you one session free so that you can decide whether you are comfortable with the counselor. Also, it is possible that one of the educational institutions that you attended may have free career counselor services.

Finally, do not get down on yourself. You should be proud of your academic accomplishments, and when dealing with any prospective employer, be sure to go in with the attitude that you have something special to offer.

Letter #: 462215
Category: Career


  1. What link did Jay, the EWC replier, post in his letter? I am in a similar position, and would like to find a career councilor near me!

    1. Administration Reply
      September 7, 2020

      The link was removed, sorry the text update was delayed.

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